If you’ve been clicking through Amazon’s self-help section recently, you’ve probably come across a title with the words Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is a widely known therapeutic method, taught in both counselling and clinical psychology programs.
CBT originated in 1960’s with Dr. Aaron T. Beck, out of his research on clinically depressed patients. Beck observed that these individuals generated spontaneous thoughts before experiencing a depressive episode. These thoughts seemed to be predominantly automatic, negative evaluations of the situation, themselves, and others, such as This will never change, I’m a failure, I can’t do anything right. These thoughts, in turn, effected how the patients felt (depressed, sad, helpless), and their feelings effected how they responded to the situation (quit, withdraw, or shut down).
By interrupting this stream of thought, Beck proposed, patients could observe their own process and begin to question whether these beliefs are true. If the underlying thoughts were changed to more positive and constructive ones, then the patient would feel and act differently. Change the thinking, change the outcome.
Beck’s prediction proved true for thousands of cases. His method was useful in treating many disorders: anxiety, depression, OCD, panic disorder, PTSD, phobias, and even substance abuse. Through the eyes of CBT these conditions are redefined from being disorders of character and seen as disorders of thinking.
So what does CBT sound like? When your therapist is asking you any of the below questions, they are using a CBT technique:
What did you think when X happened?
What do you do when you believe X?
Do you think this thought is true?
What is the worst-case scenario you imagine happening if you did X?
What is another way that you can think about this?
What would you do if you thought this way?
CBT gained traction in the therapy field because it proved itself as a practical, directive, solution-focused therapy approach. And it takes less time, which makes it feasible to clients whose benefits providers place a limit on allowed number of sessions. Further, CBT incorporates exercises and tools that can be taken out of the therapists’ office and applied by clients in their own lives.
While there are many advantages to CBT, it isn’t always effective as a stand-alone technique. Like a good nutritional plan, an effective therapy often involves different techniques to meet the shifting needs of the client.
One of the limits of CBT is that it focuses on the present problem and doesn’t attend to the underlying dynamics causing the client’s distress such as trauma, family dynamics, and relationship issues. CBT is very good at treating the symptoms, but not the underlaying root issues that fuel the symptoms. CBT also doesn’t address the overall context of the client’s life. While the client may benefit in session and in isolated situations, if the surrounding relationships in their life don’t change, they may not get better in the long-term.
Therefore, here at Helps Counselling, we don’t specialize in CBT alone. Instead, we incorporate CBT techniques along with another kinds of modalities. We understand that there is no one-way or one-size-fits-all formula of therapy for all clients. We strive to support our clients by staying adaptive to their needs and using the appropriate approach when it is most helpful.
About The Author
Lena (she/her) is a therapist with Helps Counselling. She is a first-generation immigrant from Eastern Europe, now living and working on the ancestral lands of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh. She loves her work, and she loves to connect.